Program No. 739
Airdate: December 19, 1997


 The Blackwell Corporation

MODERATED BY: Jim Glassman
PRODUCED BY: Neal B. Freeman

VHS Videocassette: $29.95
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ANNOUNCER: This week on a special edition of TechnoPolitics, part two of the conversation at Microsoft, how did life begin?

(Musical break and funding announcements.)

ANNOUNCER: At this time of year, many of you will take time to reflect on the meaning of life, perhaps to think about your place in the world, and how you came to occupy it. Well, for most scientists, you are the result of evolution, a process first described by Charles Darwin more than a century ago. The theory is that the first primitive bacteria evolved over the course of billions of years into human beings. One small improvement was built upon another in a series of random mutations.

In other words, these early species changed in unprogrammed, unpredictable ways. The ones that changed for the better were able to survive. The others died away. In this process that came to be known as natural selection, each generation became a little more complex than its predecessor, perhaps a little faster, a little stronger, a little smarter.

Since the time of Darwin, modern science has largely confirmed his theory. In fact, it's difficult to find established experts in biology or chemistry who don't support Darwinism, but there remain a few questions that science has been unable to answer. For example, how did the Earth change from inanimate rock to a cradle of life? Rocks don't appear to evolve. And, thus, how did the first organisms come to exist.

Biochemist Michael Behe is raising another question. A professor at Lehigh University, Behe is the author of Darwin's Black Box, The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Behe says that when you look at the architecture of human cells, not only do they appear to have been designed, but they could not conceivably be the result of evolution. Behe says that these molecular machines, as he calls them, are irreducibly complex. In other words, you need every piece in the right place at the right time to perform the function of the cell. Having most of the pieces in place wouldn't give a species any survival advantage and therefore, says Behe, cells of even marginally reduced complexity could not have been naturally selected.

Many scientists, and virtually all evolutionary biologists, have rejected Behe's argument. But they haven't been able to knock it down, at least not yet.

Here now, part two of our conversation on the campus of Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, Washington. Joining Jim Glassman is Michael Behe, and one of his critics, Philosopher Michael Ruse, author of Darwinism Defended. Also joining the discussion is University of California Law Professor Phillip Johnson, an expert on evidence and the author of a book sharply critical of Darwinian theory, Darwin on Trial.

MR. JIM GLASSMAN, Host, TechnoPolitics: Why is it that the vast majority of scientists believe in Darwinian evolution? These are pretty smart people.

MR. PHILLIP JOHNSON, Author, Darwin on Trial: What's happened in evolutionary science is, a philosophical dogma has just captured control of the field. So that when you suggest, look, you might not have a materialist solution here to the origin of life, to biological complexity, or whatever, you get people who get very angry. They get very resentful. You're challenging their religion.

MR. GLASSMAN: But on the other hand, Phillip --

MR. JOHNSON: They aren't even talking about the facts.

MR. GLASSMAN: On the other hand, these scientists -- scientists are very ambitious, or many of them are. I mean, if a scientist could disprove Darwinism, you know, he or she could win a Nobel prize?

MR. MICHAEL BEHE, Fellow, Discovery Institute: No, they wouldn't.

MR. GLASSMAN: I mean, why would they all be like sheep?

MR. JOHNSON: Michael Behe has done that, you see, and he's not winning any Nobel prize, he's getting brick baths from the materialists who say, you shouldn't be thinking that way. What I'm trying to do is to make this into a genuine empirical argument. You see, I want to say, whether or not you need a designer is a question of fact. Let's debate it on an open playing field. The whole problem is to get that debate started, because the materialists will say, no, we defined science as excluding the designer. You see, we define this field so that you can only have materialist solutions, don't bother us with the facts, we already know the answers.

MR. GLASSMAN: Michael, what -- Michael Ruse, why did you become a Darwinist? What was it -- what's sort of the strongest argument for evolution, for Darwinism?

MR. MICHAEL RUSE, Author, Darwinism Defended: Well, I think Phil is right. Obviously at one level is that I take science very seriously, and I think that one should push -- I don't like the word materialism. I mean -- I mean, I don't know that the mind is nothing but molecules, and certainly conversion of energy into matter, matter into energy. I prefer the word like naturalism, but I don't want to, you know, just escape by using words. But, certainly, I certainly am committed very strongly to a naturalist philosophy at a certain level. And it seems to me that doing science, doing evolutionary biology, one -- it follows that one becomes an evolutionist, and in my case certainly a Darwinian.

I don't see, personally, that this has, in itself, anything to do with religion or a designer or anything like that. I don't see that these are excluded or an either/or but not both. It seems to me that it's perfectly possible to be a scientist, to be a committed naturalist, to say, I'm going to push this as far as I possibly can, but at the same time say that there's a dimension of my experience which I just don't feel is captured by this. And, at that dimension, I call on other things. I perhaps call on religion or something like that.

MR. GLASSMAN: You objected earlier to the use of the word "faith" when it was associated with Darwinism. But would you call Darwinism a theory or a fact?

MR. RUSE: I would say -- well, I'd say it's both. I would say that evolution is a fact. I would say that Darwinism is a theory about how evolution works, just like Einstein is a theory about the way that the universe works. Now, I would certainly agree with Phil, and he's quite right, I've recently written a book Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology, in which I argue quite forcefully. I think Phil is absolutely right to say a number of evolutionists, many evolutionists, many Darwinians, have made a kind of secular religion out of their science. I mean, to take a notable example, Julian Huxley who wrote a book called -- what was it -- Religion --

MR. BEHE: Without Revelation.

MR. RUSE: Religion Without Revelation. So, I don't deny that people have certainly done this. I don't think one has to do this. I'd like to think that I don't do this.

MR. GLASSMAN: But it is true, though, that evolution or Darwinism pushes the creator into a smaller and smaller corner?

MR. RUSE: No -- well, that's a metaphor, pushes the creator into a smaller and smaller corner.

MR. GLASSMAN: Well, in other words, he has -- he seems to have a smaller and smaller role.

MR. RUSE: It gives the -- no, it gives the creator a different role. In fact, many 19th Century thinkers, including Darwin, thought that it gave the creator a more important role, a creator who could, in fact, do it through unbroken law rather than having to do it by hand, by miracles, as it were, piecemeal. I mean, the industrial revolution metaphor was very important for people like Darwin. They thought a creator who could work through law rather than by hand, by miracles, was as superior as the English industrialist who could make cloth by machines rather than the weaver who had to do it this way. So, I don't see the creator being pushed into a smaller and smaller hole, or corner, or whatever.

MR. GLASSMAN: Yeah, Mike.

MR. BEHE: I was just going to say that Michael said that he's strongly committed to naturalism. I think a scientist should not be committed to any particular philosophy. A scientist has the obligation to follow the facts, follow the data where it seems to point. And let me give you an example --

MR. GLASSMAN: But -- but a scientist can't simply say, well, I can't figure this out, so it must be a miracle.

MR. BEHE: That's correct. That's correct. A scientist has to understand what's going on, or at least have a large part of the puzzle first. But let me give you an example, about 70 years ago, it was thought that the universe was eternal and infinite, and it was based on scientific evidence. Nobody saw any substantial changes in the stars. But then the motion of the stars away from the Earth and away from each other was discovered, and that was the beginning of the Big Bang theory. And many scientists thought that had theological implications, and they didn't like it. A number of them, you know, expressed their unease with that concept. Nonetheless, they followed the data where it seemed to lead. It seemed to say that the universe had a beginning.

I see very strong parallels between that and the molecular machines we see in the cell. If you look at those, anybody who looks at those the first time, they say, that was designed. Darwinism has so far, everybody agrees, been unable to account for these things. A lot of Darwinists say, well, you know, in the future, we'll probably account for them. I disagree. I think the obvious implication is intelligent design, whether it has philosophical or theological ramifications should make no matter.

MR. RUSE: You know, I want to go back to Michael Behe's position. I mean, I'm critical of it, but without just simply shouting at each other -- you see, what worries me, Michael, is I think that ever since Thomas Kuhn, and the structure of scientific revolutions, we've realized that if you hold one paradigm and you want to give it up, you've got to know something about the other paradigm that you're going to swallow, that science is very much a comparative sort of thing. I mean, if you're going to give up on one, you've got to take up on the other.

Now, what worries me, and I -- to a certain extent with Phil, but let me talk to you, because you're the scientist, is -- is, you want to say Darwinism is wrong, wrong, wrong. We're going to go to, what is it, creative design or something like that. But this is religion and, of course, I'm not a scientist -- I'm a scientist, so I can't talk about this. I don't want to talk about this here, we're talking about Darwinism. And I want to say, you can't do that. You've got to be prepared to tell us something about what you want us to buy into. You can't just simply say, intelligent design. I mean, so I would say, then it becomes absolutely legitimate for me to come back and say, well, if you do believe in intelligent design -- I mean, if, don't forget I'm not giving you anything, but if you do, then it's absolutely legitimate for me to come back and say, well, what about the mutation which causes sickle cell anemia? Why -- I mean, do you want to say that this was intelligent design? You say, I'm not talking about the nature of the creator, of course you are. You're talking -- it's an intelligent one, it's one who cared enough to make things like cells, which were going to lead to humans.

MR. BEHE: Well, there's --

MR. GLASSMAN: Let Michael answer, and then I want to bring
Phil back in.

MR. BEHE: I think one can -- well, let me go back to the Big Bang. The Big Bang, again, had strong theological implications.

MR. GLASSMAN: Being that there had to - there was like a starting -- there was a starting point?

MR. BEHE: There was a -- the universe began at some point in time.


And, the physicists who did that did not have to describe who they thought or what they -- even what they thought started this. They didn't have the tools to investigate it at that point. They deferred it to the future. We can tell there's intelligent design because of these irreducibly complex molecular machines. Sickle cell disease, the biochemistry I don't have time to explain, but is not irreducibly complex. It may have origined by -- originated by natural processes, maybe not. But, that's a question that can be addressed in the future if we have enough progress. I don't see the need to come up with a complete description of everything that intelligent design might produce in the future immediately.

MR. RUSE: But my point is that this is so clearly an example of not very intelligent non-design.

MR. GLASSMAN: So, you're just -- are you just saying that there can be mistakes, or maybe we'll learn that sickle cell anemia is not a mistake?

MR. BEHE: I'm saying, well, in the world there can be intelligent design plus contingency. Even Darwinists say that, they say they world can have natural selection plus accident, contingency. There's no reason --

Okay. Phillip wants to come into this conversation.

MR. JOHNSON: A designed software program can become corrupted by the equivalent of mutation. That doesn't mean that there's no such person as Bill Gates, you know.


MR. RUSE: I haven't yet seen him, you know.

MR. GLASSMAN: He's everywhere.

MR. JOHNSON: So the point of these detailed problems, you know, and say, therefore, we should shutdown the whole program investigation is absurd.

Now, look, at certain times and in certain conditions, a particular faith commitment can be useful. For example, the commitment to naturalism, materialism, whatever you want to call it, can be useful in the sense that it gives you the impetus to explore all the naturalistic possibilities and not give up too soon.

At another point in time, the same commitment can shutdown thinking, and that's what's happening today, is that that when we attempt to bring out the facts, attempt to bring out the staggering levels of interrelated complexity that there are, attempt to bring out the facts of embryology, which are completely contrary to the picture that's presented in the evolutionary textbooks. You get to say, well, no, we can't go into that because there's the sickle cell anemia gene, you see, so that would be a problem down the road.

MR. GLASSMAN: You're talking about --

MR. JOHNSON: But, wait, our program is to bring out the facts.

MR. GLASSMAN: Okay. Now, on the question of facts, if you walk through the Museum of Natural History, you can see in very dramatic fashion, the evolution of man from apes, and what gets discovered is more -- I mean, these missing links that Darwin talked about, we see more and more of them. I mean, doesn't that convince you of something?

MR. JOHNSON: Well, you think those are facts, and actually they're imaginative reconstructions that come from people who have a very committed bias. But, even so --

MR. GLASSMAN: Well, the fossils -- the fossils are real.

MR. JOHNSON: The fossils -- well, the fossils are not the drawings and the reconstructions that you see in those museums.

MR. GLASSMAN: So you think those are fanciful drawings by --

MR. JOHNSON: A lot of artwork comes in --

MR. GLASSMAN: -- by ideologues.

MR. JOHNSON: Well, this is, of course, interpretation.

MR. GLASSMAN: Is that what you're saying? Is that what you're saying?

MR. JOHNSON: What I'm saying is that there is a lot of interpretation based in these things which is -- is done by human beings who already have a theoretical paradigm in mind. But, in any event, one distinction you have to keep clear is the distinction between evolution in the sense that there is some change or development, and Darwinism or scientific materialism in the sense that all of this is done by these purposeless material processes. Go back to your example with software programs --

MR. GLASSMAN: Well, I just want to get it straight what you're saying about this -- what has always seemed to me, from the time I was a child, to be very convincing as far as evolution is concerned. I mean, you're saying that virtually every scientist in the world is kind of just making this up, this thing --

MR. JOHNSON: You're trying to caricature the position. Let me put it this way, why do you think that all the claimed fossil evidence for the Darwinian picture comes from the areas in which fossil evidence is most incomplete. The fossil record is most complete, for example, among animals with marine invertebrates because of their way of life they're frequently fossilized. When I discussed this subject with Niles Eldridge, the curator of marine invertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History, he wants to talk about Lucy, he wants to talk about hominids, you see, because the marine invertebrates, where the fossil record is very complete, don't evolve in any fundamental sense. There's variation, but no directional evolution.

MR. GLASSMAN: Do you agree with that, Michael?

MR. RUSE: Well, I'm not sure that I do. I mean --

MR. JOHNSON: Well, Eldridge has.

MR. RUSE: Yes. Well, of course. But Eldridge is a slightly difficult case, because although Eldridge is an absolutely committed evolutionist, you know perfectly well that he's not a committed Darwinian. So, I mean, are we not -- I mean, at one level it seems to me you're fuzzying that up. Of course, Eldridge wants to talk about humans, I want to talk about humans, I am human. I'm not a trilobite.

MR. JOHNSON: The key issue is this claim that you don't need the designer, you don't need the creator, because science has shown, not hopes to show, but really has shown the mechanism that can do it all without that, and show it -- so it shows that mankind is the result of a purposeless process that cares nothing about us. That's the line that's taught as fact in all those textbooks. And it's not fact, it's ideology.

MR. GLASSMAN: Let's talk about -- I want to ask Michael Ruse about something that is human -- that seems to be uniquely human, and might have been put there by intelligent design, because there's probably not much other use for it, and that is language.

MR. RUSE: Oh, no. No, absolutely not. I mean, language is about as Darwinian as it's possible to get. You see, the thing about we humans is that, in many respects, we're not very good -- I mean, we're not very fast, we're not very tough. We're helpless. All of these things. But why do we succeed? Why is it, if you like, that we've conquered the world, and I don't necessarily use that in a good sense? Because we're a highly social species, because we work together.

Now, we have all sorts of adaptations which make for sociality, sexual adaptations, for instance, and other things. And right at the top of these is language, the fact that we can communicate, the fact that we can, as it were, convey ideas across the group is terribly, terribly important from a Darwinian perspective.

MR. GLASSMAN: What about -- Michael, what about morality?

MR. RUSE: Well, morality, that's okay. Morality is another one. I personally would want to say that morality is also something which has evolved, which has been promoted by natural selection. Now, I want to -- let me be quite fair, not all of my fellow evolutionists would go right down the line on this, not even all my Darwinians. But I'm prepared to go this far --

MR. GLASSMAN: We have to treat people well, other people well, and communicate with them well in order to survive, individually and as a group.

MR. JOHNSON: Well, from a Darwinian standpoint, social cooperation makes sense, but so does genocide. You see, that's just natural selection operating in the world. So that Darwin himself, in The Descent of Man, predicted very coolly that what he said was the most advanced race, of course he meant his own, would exterminate all of the others, and this was just the way natural selection operates. So, you can justify anything from a natural selection, and extermination is one of the easiest things to justify.

Now, I don't want to use that as an unfair argument, because there are many Darwinists that are decent and so on.

MR. RUSE: But you have done, so go on.

MR. JOHNSON: Well, but it is true, isn't it? Isn't it, that's just natural selection?

MR. RUSE: No, I'm not at all sure that I agree with you. I mean, I certainly agree with you that probably natural selection has raised in us feelings of in-group/out-group. I wouldn't want to deny that. That during the Pleistocene, the biggest enemies were other groups of hominids, and that sort of thing. I'd be quite prepared to say that these things had a root in our biology. But I think, as we've seen, in cases like Nazi Germany, in fact, of course, these are very unstable societies, that, in fact, societies which operate in this way don't last.

MR. GLASSMAN: But, Michael, let's talk about -- we already are, but let's talk about some of these implications. I mean, what if there is -- what if it is found and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no intelligent designer. What does that mean? I mean, would there be more evil in the world?

MR. BEHE: Would there be more evil, well, there was --

MR. GLASSMAN: Just what does it mean?

MR. BEHE: There was evil before Darwin, there was evil after Darwin, there will be evil whether there's an intelligent design here or not.

MR. GLASSMAN: If people are convinced that they're just part of a -- kind of a materialistic or naturalistic mechanism, that there's nothing uniquely human, does that make them less moral?

MR. BEHE: Well, if they are logical, it would. But people are not necessarily logical. For me, I would tend to think so, but I'm not a psychologist, but I would like to bop back to what Michael Ruse just said, talking about how language is Darwinian, and morality might be Darwinian. I'd just like to point out as a biochemist that Darwinism Darwinists generally assume that if they can show that a trait is good for an organism, therefore, it arose by natural selection. There's no evidence that natural selection can produce a language. There's no evidence that it produces any particular moral behavior. All of these are assumed. Because they're good for the organism, Darwinists assume that they were produced by natural selection.

MR. GLASSMAN: Well, what about language? I mean, you hear dogs barking, and they're obviously communicating. They're not having a sophisticated conversation, at least as far as we know.

MR. BEHE: That's correct. And if you look at the structures that make them bark, you see the nerves going from their brain to, say, their throats and stuff, and you see the ion channels, and the many molecular machines that are necessary, you may as well say your computer beeps when you turn it on and, therefore, you know, natural selection or some unintelligent process produced that. You're assuming that because something happened, it arose naturally. But the -- I'm trying to say that all of these structures, even the dogs barking, everything like that, the basis for these are extremely complicated systems that show no evidence of being constructed by step-by-step Darwinian processes.

MR. GLASSMAN: Michael, are you saying in your theory about intelligent design, about irreducible complexity, that a creator created this irreducible complexity, the cell, and then sort of wound up the system and then let evolution take its course, or are you saying that there is a creator or there is some kind of intelligent design over all of the steps of -- you agree that there is evolution -- over all the steps of evolution?

MR. BEHE: I'm saying we can't tell at this point. We can tell that the components of the cell were designed. And let me give you an example. Suppose you're walking though the woods with a friend, and all of a sudden your friend is pulled up high and left dangling in the air with a vine around his ankle. And you cut him down, and you can reconstruct it. And you see that the vine was covered with leaves, and a branch was staked down. And you would immediately conclude that that was designed, that was no accident. When was it designed? When was that trap set? Yesterday? A month ago? You don't know. Who set the trap? Was it an angel? Was it your next door neighbor? Was it, you know, an alien? You can't tell just by looking at the trap. You need more data to figure that out. But just by looking at that trap, you can sure as shooting tell that it was designed.

When you see a bacterium that uses a little outboard motor to propel itself through the -- through liquid. You can tell that was designed, but when it was designed, how it was designed, who designed it, why it was designed, all of those are questions that you do not --

MR. GLASSMAN: But do you reject the notion that it could have been designed simply through natural selection?

MR. BEHE: If it was designed by an intelligent agent through natural selection, that's not Darwinism. Darwinism says that it was essentially, philosophically, random. That there was no purpose. If you say that --

MR. GLASSMAN: Well, it was random, except that the little bacterium that has the little outboard motor is more efficient. I mean, it's more apt to survive --

MR. BEHE: Yes, but an --

MR. GLASSMAN: -- than without the outboard motor.

MR. BEHE: An outboard motor takes many, many steps before it's complete. A bacterium with one-tenth of the outboard motor doesn't -- is not more efficient. With one half of an outboard motor, it's still looking around for things to do. It needs the whole thing there before it works at all. And that's how we conclude design every day, just like in that trap in the woods.

MR. GLASSMAN: Thank you, Michael Behe. Thank you, Michael Ruse. And thank you, Phillip Johnson.

For TechnoPolitics, I'm Jim Glassman. We'll see you next time.

(End of program.)